AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is opposing a plan to convert a key component of the Maine National Guard from engineers to infantry in order to maintain construction capability if there is a disaster and preserve military jobs for women.

The governor’s office explained LePage’s stance after a tumultuous week in which he abruptly fired Maine guard chief Brig. Gen. James Campbell over the officer’s plan to transform Maine’s 133rd Engineer Battalion into an infantry unit. Campbell said the move would better position Maine’s military force amid federal budget and troop reductions. LePage’s office said Campbell mischaracterized how the plan was formulated.

“The 133rd is comprised of occupations, experience and equipment that are vital to Maine and the nation, especially during natural disasters in our state or deployments anywhere in the world where there is a need for buildings, roads and other infrastructure,” Peter Steele, spokesman for the governor, said Monday.

While there are jobs for women in an infantry unit, the number is far fewer than in an engineer battalion, Steele said.

“Transitioning from engineers to infantry could make it harder for women to remain in the Guard,” the governor’s spokesman said. “Some occupations for women in an engineer battalion may not be transferrable to positions in an infantry unit. Also, the training and physical requirements for an infantry unit may be more demanding and may be more difficult to meet for some women who have served in the Maine National Guard for many years.”

The Maine Army National Guard had a total of 262 women serving in 2014 out of a force of approximately 2,100, according to a previous BDN report.

Determining what the Maine National Guard will look like in the future was expected to be the subject of a meeting Wednesday between LePage and interim state guard chief Brig. Gen. Gerard Bolduc. The meeting was announced by a guard spokesman last week.

No meeting will take place, according to Steele.

“The governor said he does not need to meet with the general tomorrow,” Steele wrote in an email Tuesday evening. “It has been such a whirlwind of a week, he would like to give the general time to settle in and get his feet planted firmly on the ground before they meet. The governor said he has full confidence in the general and wants to let him do his job.”

Bolduc and LePage at some point apparently will need to address the status of Campbell’s plan.

Campbell’s firing was followed Friday by an announcement from the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., that a planned 2016 deployment to Kuwait by Maine’s 136th Engineer Company, which is part of the Portland-based 133rd, was canceled as a direct result of the planned change from engineers to infantry. The cancellation appears to indicate the plan to change the 133rd Engineer Battalion and other units into the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment, is under way.

Steele said the governor also wanted to keep the 133rd in Maine for the unit’s construction capabilities in natural disasters and humanitarian efforts.

Around 160 members of the 133rd were dispatched to provide disaster relief to Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina damaged much of New Orleans in September 2005, and since then the unit has been sent to six national emergencies, according to Maine National Guard spokesman Capt. Norman Stickney. Seventy soldiers went to Fort Kent in 2008 to assist during flooding.

“It’s the only Maine deployment during” the last decade, Stickney said of the Fort Kent flood, for which the 133rd sent up high-water vehicles. “The mobilizations are usually made up of multiple units, all within the 133rd.”

The most recent domestic deployment for the 133rd occurred in February, when 52 soldiers went to Massachusetts to assist with snow removal.

In February 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to cut the Army National Guard from 355,000 soldiers to 335,000 by 2017. He also noted that the recommended 5 percent decrease in the number of National Guard and Reserve soldiers was smaller than the 13 percent reduction proposed for full-time soldiers.

Campbell, who became Maine’s adjutant general in 2012, said last year when news of his transition plans were initially revealed that powerful figures in the Pentagon had been talking about downsizing the National Guard, which is a position he opposed.

“If these plans are allowed to pass, our current Maine Army National Guard of 2,122 soldiers — already reduced by more than 500 soldiers since 2007 — will potentially be reduced by another 200,” Campbell said in May 2014.

If those cuts are made, Maine would have the smallest National Guard contingent since the state separated from Massachusetts in 1820, Campbell said at the time. He said once he heard about the possible cuts, he began work on a plan to align Maine with the regular Army’s goals.

The concept of changing Maine’s guard configuration apparently first was addressed even earlier, before Campbell’s appointment as leader.

“The ME National Guard initiated this process in 2008,” Rick Breitenfeldt, a National Guard Bureau spokesman based in Arlington, said Tuesday in an email. “The action to inactivate the ME Engineer [battalion] and to activate an Infantry [battalion] in ME are still ongoing as part of Total Army Analysis and are pre-decisional. No final decision has been made.”

Major Gen. John W. Libby was the head of the Maine National Guard in 2008. Efforts to reach Libby for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The 133rd is made up of personnel from the 136th Engineer Company in Skowhegan and Lewiston, 185th Engineer Support Company from Caribou, 251st Engineer Company of Norway, the Forward Support Company in Portland, Headquarters Support Company, the 262nd Engineer Company based in Belfast and Westbrook, and the 1035th Survey and Design Team of Gardiner.

The units that would be transitioned to infantry under Campbell’s plan include the 136th, 262nd, 251st, Forward Support Company, which are all part of the 133rd, and Bravo Company, 172nd Mountain Infantry unit based in Brewer, according to information obtained by the Bangor Daily News as part of a Freedom of Information Act request for Campbell’s emails and texts released last week.

Units listed to be “turned in” as part of the planned transition include the 1035th Survey and Design Team, the 1968th Contingency Contracting Team and the 121st Public Affairs Department based in Augusta, states a March 28, 2014, email to Campbell from Col. Jack Mosher, his chief of staff.

Campbell said Tuesday that a conversation with Mosher over keeping the possible transition quiet had nothing to do with the governor.

“The HQ of the 133rd was deployed in Afghanistan and we didn’t want rumors to start swirling and upset the unit and families, when nothing was really happening except discussions about the idea,” Campbell said. “I told the governor all of this at that time.”

Whether he was informed of the plan or not, LePage wants no part of it now, according to Steele.

“Governor LePage wants to maintain the National Guard force we now have in place,” Steele said. “He is adamantly opposed to the reduction of even one position in the Maine National Guard. In fact, Governor LePage wants to grow the Guard in our state.”


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